The NCAA Tournament dream lives to die another day.
Penn State defeated Minnesota 66-63 on Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena in Minneapolis to even its conference record at 9-9 and give itself a chance to play its way into an at-large berth at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis starting Thursday.
Talor Battle stormed the Barn and led the Nittany Lions with 22 points, three assists and two rebounds. Jeff Brooks shook off a slow start to contribute 20 points and seven rebounds of his own and Tim Frazier posted a balanced day of seven points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Though Minnesota probably doesn't count as a key road win, it does make the glaring hole of Penn State's road record look a little smaller. It also ensures the Lions probably won't have to win out in Indianapolis to have a realistic shot at an at-large berth. In all likelihood, 18 wins, which would mean two in the tournament, will give the team a fighting chance come Selection Sunday. An appearance in the tournament final would probably put Penn State safely on the right side.
First up will be Indiana at 7:30 P.M. on Thursday. Until then...
- Frazier came back from six turnovers against Ohio State on Tuesday to post a point guard's dream state line. He scored, he set up his teammates and he worked hard on the boards. He's not the gamebreaker Talor Battle is, but he's become just as important to Penn State's success. If he gets in done in Indianapolis, Penn State has a real shot.
- Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks both hit clutch 3-pointers in the last two minutes. The Lions played well enough to win at both Ohio State and Purdue earlier this season, but they didn't make winning plays at crunch times. Penn State made the plays this time, and it was good to see it pay off.
- Minnesota was 2-15 from beyond the arc. After the disaster against Ohio State and Jon Diebler, it was good to see things return to equilibrium when it really mattered.
Jermaine Marshall had six points off the bench. It wasn't much, but if Penn State had been getting that all season, it'd be safely in the Dance. Hopefully, Marshall can continue to contribute today's line and give his teammates a blow. They'll need a little rest to win two or possibly three games in three days.
- Minnesota destroyed Penn State on the boards 17-5 in the first half, but Penn State came back to finish with a 27-25 edge. Nice show of resiliency.
- Um...I had to rub my eyes when I say that 17-5 gap first half rebounding gap. That'll get you buried against most teams. Penn State was very lucky the Gophers didn't make more shots, because if they had, the Lions could have been fighting the uphill battle it did at places like Illinois and Michigan State earlier this season.
- The Lions turned the ball over 11 times. A few more than you'd like to see.
- Beyond Marshall, the bench played eight minutes (all Billy Oliver's) and produced almost nothing. Depth will be a major, major issue in the Big Ten Tournament if more guys don't step up.
- Penn State was called for two intentional fouls in the game, the second on Andrew Jones a complete phantom call. Luckily for Penn State, it didn't disrupt the momentum, but it could have had a major effect on the game, and it definitely didn't need to. Poor call by Ed Hightower's crew.
- VCU defeated George Mason Sunday in the CAA tournament. The 26-6 Patriots now enter the at-large, pool, and with their 25 RPI, they look like a strong bet to go dancing. Fortunately for the bubble, they don't own a single top-50 according to Ken Pomeroy (that could change by morning) so there is some wiggle room there, but Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State can't afford many more of those upsets in conference title games.